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DEDICATION OF THE LATERAN BASILICA

Readings
Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
Psalm 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9
1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17
John 2:13-22

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Christians are God's Living Temple
On this day the Church celebrates the dedication of the world's first cathedral.  The basilica was located near the Lateran palace in Rome, the official residence of the popes of the Catholic Church in the 4th century.  The building began in AD 315 under the direction of Rome's first Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great.  Originally dedicated to the Divine Savior, the basilica was consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324.  In the 14th century the basilica was destroyed by fire and was abandoned.  Later the basilica was rebuilt and dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Apostle.  The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the "Mother" Church of Rome and of all the world's churches.  The Lateran Basilica has hosted the sessions of five great Ecumenical Councils.

As we celebrate the consecration of our "Mother" Church in Rome, we are aware that a building is not a house for the Body of Christ.  Christians collectively are the Body of Christ (Rom 12:5-6), and each Christian individually is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19).  We are the Body of Christ not only as local congregations but as the Church universal, and each Christian is a temple in which loving sacrifices of good works are offered that are pleasing to God (1 Pt 2:5).

The First Reading Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12 ~ The Life-Giving Temple
1 The angel brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the fašade of the temple was toward the east; the water flowed down from the southern side of the temple, south of the altar.  2 He led me outside by the north gate, and round to the outer gate facing the east. Where I saw water trickling from the southern side.
8 He said to me, "This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah, and empties into the sea, the salt water, which it makes fresh.  9 Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.
12 Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow; their leaves shall not fade nor their fruit fail.  Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.  Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine."

The LORD gave the 6th century BC prophet Ezekiel a vision of the ideal Temple at a time when the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians.  Ezekiel's vision of the Temple and the river of life with fruitful trees is similar to St. John's final vision in the Book of Revelation (Rev 22:1-5) and recalls Jesus' announcement during the liturgical service on the Feast of Tabernacles that He is the "living water" welling up for eternal life (Jn 7:37-39). 

The Arabah mentioned in verse 8 is a geographical term usually designating an arid desert region (Dt 1:7; 2:8; 3:17; Jos 11:2, 16; 12:8; 18:18; 2 Sam 2:29; 4:7; 2 Kng 25:4; Jer 39:4; 52:7; Zec 14:10).  In Deuteronomy 2:8 it seems clear that the term includes the modern Wadi Arabah, the name of the continuation of the rift from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqabah.  In verse 8 it is used symbolically and not geographically for an arid, lifeless land.

The description of the superabundant stream of water flowing from the Temple that restores fertility to the land is symbolic of the return of the conditions of divine grace that were lost in the fall of our original parents in Eden when Adam and Eve were "dis-graced," cast out of Eden, and denied access to the "Tree of Life" (Gen 2:8-14; 3:22-24).  In this passage, the water is a symbol of life and great blessings, just as arid, non-fertile land signifies a curse (Gen 3:17-19; Ez 26:5-14).  The ideal Temple faces east, the direction of the rising sun, and signifies a "new day" or a "new age" that is dawning; it is the promised Messianic Age of the New Covenant promised by Ezekiel's contemporary the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 31:31-34).  East is the direction the desert Sanctuary and later the Jerusalem Temple faced (Num 3:38).  It is also the direction the Vatican faces in Rome and for centuries all Catholic churches were built facing east.  In the dawn of the "new age," God's grace will flow like life-giving water out to mankind, renewing and restoring the earth.  In the new age of the New Covenant in Christ, God's grace flows out from the Kingdom of Jesus Christ which is His Church.  Every Christian baptized by water and the Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16).  Every baptized Christian is empowered to become a conduit of life in sharing the Gospel of salvation with the world as the works of God flow from the service of Christians, bearing the "fruit" of good works in the name of Jesus Christ while the life-giving "medicine" of the Eucharist nourishes the faithful "temples" that together form the Body of Christ, the Church.  Are you committed to being a conduit of life?  Are you committed to not quenching the Spirit but allowing the Spirit of God to work through you?

Responsorial Psalm 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9 ~ The Dwelling Place of God
The response is: "The waters of the river gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High."
2 God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress.  3 Therefore we fear not, though the earth be shaken and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea.
Response:
5 There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High.  6 God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed; God will help it at the break of dawn.
Response:
8 The LORD of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.  9 Come! behold the deeds of the LORD, the astounding things he has wrought on earth.
Response:

Psalm 46 is the first of the "Songs of Zion" (Ps 46; 48; 76; and 87).  In the holy city of Jerusalem, the most prominent structure is no longer the king's throne or his palace; it is the Jerusalem Temple that is the dwelling-place of the Most High God.  In the liturgy of worship, the congregation of God's chosen people express their confidence in God the Most High whose power can even control the elements of nature (verses 2-3). 

5 There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High.  6 God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed; God will help it at the break of dawn.
Jerusalem was not situated on a river.  Its only water source was a natural spring called the Gihon.  The description in verse 5 is symbolic of the Divine Presence of God as the source of life and blessings, like water is a blessed source of life for the earth.

8 The LORD of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.  9 Come! behold the deeds of the LORD, the astounding things he has wrought on earth.
In verse 8 the psalmist (and the congregation) expresses confidence in the Lord God to protect His people, the evidence of which is the "astounding things" or the miracles He has worked down through salvation history on behalf of His chosen people.

St. Augustine referred to the Church as the "City of God."  The Church is where God dwells among His people and offers His gifts in abundance.  St. Jose Escriva writes that God provides that inner strength and sense of security which comes from knowing that the Holy Spirit dwells within the Church of Jesus Christ: "The Holy Spirit is present in the Church of Christ for all time, so that it may be, always and in everything, a sign raised up before all nations, announcing to all men the goodness and the love of God.  [...] The presence and the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church are a foretaste of eternal happiness, of the joy and peace for which we are destined by God (Escriva, Christ is Passing By, 128).

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17 ~ We are God's Building
9c You are God's building.  10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it.  But each one must be careful how he builds upon it, 11 for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely, Jesus Christ. 
16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.

That Paul calls the Church the building of God does not refer to any manmade structure but instead to the baptized believers who are the Body of Christ.  Jesus referred to Himself in the context of Psalm 118:22 (117:22) as the "stone" which the builders rejected that became the "cornerstone" (Mt 21:42; also see quoted by St. Peter in Acts 4:11; 1 Pt 2:7).  It is on the foundation stone of Jesus that the Church is built by the Apostles and their successors.  Christians are the "living stones" that form the individual temples of the Holy Spirit and the dwelling place of God among men and women (1 Pt 2:5 and Rev 21:3).

16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.
In these verses, Paul is speaking both to individual Christians and to the Church as a whole.  St. Paul frequently wrote of the Church and Christians as God's temple (for example: 1 Cor 6:19-20; 2 Cor 6:16).  In these verses he is referring to the Holy Trinity who dwells in the soul in grace.  Pope Leo XIII wrote: "... by means of grace God dwells in the just soul as in a temple, in a special and intimate manner" (Divinum illud munus, 10).  While this indwelling is usually attributed to the Holy Spirit (see Jn 14:17; 1 Cor 6:19), the manifestation really comes through the presence of the three persons of the Most Holy Trinity; God cannot be separated apart from Himself because He is One unique and Divine nature.  Therefore, God will protect His "temple" that is His dwelling place within the soul of the Christian, and St. Paul's warning in verse 17 is that anyone who seeks to destroy God's "temple" will face God's divine wrath.  This is both a warning to those who may intend to do harm to Christians and a source of comfort to Christians to know that God is with them in their struggles and sufferings, and will that He will see that ultimately they will receive divine justice.

The Gospel of John 2:13-22 ~ Jesus the Living Temple
13 Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  14 He found in the temple area [hiero] those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there.  15 He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area [hieron], with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, 16 and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here and stop making my Father's house a marketplace."  17 His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, "Zeal for your house will consume me."  18 At this the Jews answered and said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?"  19 Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple [naos] and in three days I will raise it up."  20 The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?"  21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body.  22 Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.
Note: the Greek words hiero and hieron indicate that this was the outer court of the Temple area and not the inner courts of the Sanctuary which is in Greek the naos.  This area probably the outer court called the "Court of the Gentiles" and was the place designated for the teaching of the Gentile nations about the one true God.  It was the only place where Gentiles could offer prayer to God and bring their sacrifices.

This event took place in the first year of Jesus' ministry and is the first of the three Passover Feasts mentioned in John's Gospel (also see Jn 6:1 and 12:1).  Passover was one of the Seven Sacred Annual Feasts decreed by God at Mt. Sinai.  It was the feast which began the liturgical year and was to be celebrated on the 14th of Nisan [Abib /Aviv], which corresponds to our March/April time frame (Ex 12:1).  The day after the Passover sacrifice began the 7 day Feast of Unleavened Bread (the next day always began at sundown).  Unleavened Bread was also one of the three "Pilgrim Feasts" where every man of Israel was to present himself before God at His holy Temple in Jerusalem (Ex 23:14-15; Dt 16:16; 2 Chr 8:13).  It was held in association with the Feast of Firstfruits on the first day after the Sabbath of the Unleavened Bread holy week. Eight days were spent in celebration and remembrance of the Exodus experience.  Please consult the chart "The Seven Sacred Feasts of the Old Covenant" in the Charts section.

Jesus went up to Jerusalem...   Jerusalem is approximately 2,600 feet above sea level and is built on three mountain ridges.  God's Holy Temple was built on the mountain known as Moriah on the site when Abraham was willing to offer up his son Isaac to God as a sacrifice.  The Temple in Jerusalem was the only place where atonement could be offered for sins, covered by the blood of a sacrificed animal, so that communion with God could be restored in a sacred meal called the Todah, "thanksgiving."

14 He found in the temple area [hiero] those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves...
The animals sold as sacrifices were "priest approved" unblemished victims.  The doves and pigeons were the sacrifices of the poor (Leviticus 5:7).  The chief priests took a cut of the profits for approving the animals ritually "clean."

as well as the money changers seated there. It was required by the Law of the Covenant that a Temple tax of a half-shekel was to be paid once a year.  Coins that bore the portraits of the Roman Emperors or other pagan images were not permitted to be used in paying the tax (Ex 20:4) and so moneychangers, for a profit, exchanged these coins for legal Tyrian coinage which was not stamped with an image.

15 He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area [hieron], with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables ...
The Temple police strictly enforced the rule that no weapons or sticks were allowed in the Temple precincts.  Jesus may have taken the rushes used as bedding for the animals to fashion his whip. The area where the "market" had been set up was called the Court of the Gentiles.  This court was the place where the Gentile peoples were to be instructed in the holy covenant of the One True God and where they could pray.  They were prohibited from any other part of the Temple precinct.  Until they had converted and had been officially received into the covenant, Gentiles could not offer sacrifice at the Temple altar or attend Temple services.  This was the one place where the Gentiles had the opportunity to come close to God in His Sanctuary.

16 and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here and stop making my Father's house a marketplace."  Perhaps because the doves were the sacrifices for the poor Jesus seems to be less harsh with the dove sellers and offers an explanation for his behavior, but a market place within the Temple complex has clearly filled Jesus with anger.  Since Jesus is both full God and fully man, He experienced all the human desires and conditions that we experience, but unlike us, He was not tempted to sin nor did He sin.  His anger is righteous anger.  He is angry at the pollution of His Father's house.  The moneychangers and merchants are robbing Israel through their inflated exchange rates (the priests had a cut of these profits) and He is angry because the Gentiles are being robbed of the opportunity to worship, robbed of the opportunity to be instructed in the true faith, and robber of the opportunity to pray in peace without the stink and clamor of the animals and the haggling of the money-changers (CCC# 583-84).  

The literal translation of John 2:15 is He poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables.  The words "poured out" are significant in Scripture; this is liturgical language.  These words are used in the Hebrew of the Old Testament, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint translation, and the New Testament in connection with the "pouring out" of the blood of sacrifice for sin at the altar and with the "pouring out" of God's wrath in judgment against sinners.  In this case it is the pouring out of God's wrath and this action is a prophetic sign performed by Jesus as the promised prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15-20.  Such a sign performed by a prophet of God is called in Hebrew an ot and indicates a future fulfillment.  In this case Jesus' action signifies the Temple's destruction which took place in AD 70 when God used the Roman army to bring down His judgment on the Old Covenant people for their rejection of the visitation of their Redeemer-Messiah and therefore, rejection of God's covenant of salvation: They will smash you to the ground and your children with you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation  (Lk 19:43-44).

The literal translation of John 2:16 is Make not the house of my Father a house of trade.  There is a play on the double use of the word "house" but Jesus is also making a very powerful statement about His identity.  He is the Messiah and He is God's Son.  Did you notice when John the Baptist identified Jesus as "THE Son of God" in John 1:24 he was not identifying Jesus as "a son of God" like David or the other Kings of Israel but as God's only begotten Son (1:18).  Jesus is affirming this claim.  The early Church father, Origen, in his Homilies on St. John writes: "And from thenceforth Jesus, the Anointed of God, always begins by reforming abuses and purifying from sin; both when he visits his Church, and when he visits the Christian soul" (Homily on St. John, 1).

17 His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, "Zeal for your house will consume me."
This is a reference to Psalms 69:9(10).  The passage expresses the suffering of the righteous who call out to God to save them from the wounds they suffer through the insults that sinners heap upon God.  The Psalms ends in a promise that God will save Zion.  Zion always refers to Israel but in the sense of a redeemed Israel.  The disciples connect this passage to Jesus' righteous anger in response to the misuse of His Father's house and the promise of Psalms 69 that He will redeem His people.

18 At this the Jews answered and said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?"  19 Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple [naon] and in three days I will raise it up."  20 The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?"  21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body.  22 Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.
The Greek word naon/naos in verse 18 indicates the Sanctuary of the Temple area, which includes the Holy Place and the "inner sanctum" or place where God dwells, which is called the Holy of Holies.  In 1 Corinthians 1:22, St. Paul wrote: For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified ...  The Jewish authorities ask for "signs" because every true prophet must have "signs" or miracles worked in God's name to show that his authority comes from God (Is 7:11; Jn 3:2; 6:29, 30; 7:3, 31; 9:16, 33).  It was expected that the Messiah would repeat the "signs" of Moses (see John 1:21).  Jesus did work "signs":

  1. To stimulate faith in His divine mission (John 2:11, 23; 4:48-54; 11:15, 42; 12:37
  2. To show that God has sent Him (John 5:36; 10:25, 37)
  3. To show that the Father is within Him/ He and the Father are One (John 10:30; 10:38; 14:10)

The Temple that Jesus will raise up in 3 days is His "sign"; it is a prophetic statement of His death and resurrection.  The body of the risen Christ is one of the great symbols of Christianity (see Rev 21:22 and 1 Cor 12:12ff).  Christ's resurrected body is the focus of worship "in spirit and truth" (John 4:21ff; 6:63).  His resurrected Body is the shrine of the Presence of God (Jn 1:14), and it is the spiritual temple from which the living waters of salvation flow (Jn 7:37-39; 19:34; Rev chapter 22). 

Jesus is making a declaration about His Body in John 2:18-22.  In this passage Jesus is declaring His Body, which is Himself personally and His Body the Church, to be the true Temple!  The physical resurrection of Christ's Body is the foundation for His New Covenant people being constituted as the Temple for in receiving Christ in the Sacrament of Eucharist our bodies become the New Covenant Temple.  Christ lives in us, therefore, we are the Body because we have received the body of Christ (1 Cor 3:10-11, 16-17; Eph 1:20; 2:5-6).

20 The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?"  21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body.  22 Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.
Jesus is challenging the Temple authorities to destroy his own body.  The irony is that the physical Temple will be destroyed in AD 70 and it will never be rebuilt (the Arab shrine the Dome of the Rock stands on the site today), while Jesus' Body will be raised from the grave in divine glory (CCC# 586 and 994).

This temple has been under construction for forty-six years
This comment can help us date this event.  The Jewish historian Josephus confirms that Herod the Great spent 46 years re-building the Temple. He records that Herod began reconstruction on the Temple in 19BC (Antiquities of the Jews, 15.11.3).  That would make the date for this event the Spring of AD 28 and agrees with Luke's statement that John the Baptist and Jesus began their ministry in the 15th year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius AD 28. 

It is fitting that Jesus should cleanse His Father's house at the beginning of His ministry in preparation for the people of the Old Covenant to receive Him and again at the end when He prepares the Old Covenant people to be joined in the New Covenant of His blood and for a new liturgy to replace the old Temple animal sacrifices.  The first cleansing is a fulfillment of the prophecy from Malachi 3:1 that had already been linked to John the Baptist as the messenger who precedes the Messiah: Look, I shall send my messenger [John the Baptist] to clear a way before me.  And suddenly the Lord whom you seek will come to his Temple [Jesus]That passage continues in verse 3: He will take his seat as refiner and purifier; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they can make the offering to Yahweh with uprightness (NJB).

Ever since the Temple's rebuilding after the return from the Babylonian exile in the late 6th century BC, the Temple in Jerusalem had been an "empty house."  God had not taken possession of the Temple the way He had filled and indwelled the desert Tabernacle (Ex 40:34-45) and Solomon's Temple (1 Kng 8:10-11).  The Holy of Holies was an empty room because no Ark of the Covenant graced its sacred space (2 Mac 2:1-8; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 14.4.4 & The Jewish War, 1.7.6 & 6.4.7).  After the Creation event, when God was at rest on His Glory Throne, He judged His Creation-Temple (the garden Sanctuary in Eden) and He found wickedness contaminating it when Adam and Eve fell from grace.  He cleansed it, banishing the offenders (Gen 3:24).  In this event in John's Gospel, Jesus, the Son of God, comes to the Temple.  He assessed the Temple, judged it as contaminated, and cleansed it by banishing the offenders.  God has returned to claim His holy house, and His presence, for the first time in centuries, is in His Temple!

his disciples remembered... John continually reminds us that much of the true meaning of what he and the other disciples witnessed was not revealed to them until after the resurrection (Lk 24:27, 45). What should we think about in connection with this episode of Jesus judging the Temple in Jerusalem and our relationship to Christ?  It is good for us to remember that it is on the New Covenant Sabbath, Sunday, the Lord's Day, that we come to appear before God's throne of judgment to be examined.  And, if we are free of sin, we can enter into His rest of Holy Communion in the Eucharist, filled with the divine life of the Christ and becoming temples of the Holy Spirit.  But we must come with a purified soul (through the Penitential Rite for venial sins and the Sacrament of Reconciliation for mortal sins) so we will not be turned away from union with a pure and holy God!  St. Paul warned the faithful: Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.  A person should examine himself and so eat the bread and drink the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Cor 11:27-29).

Catechism References:
1 Corinthians 3:9 (CCC 307, 755, 756); 3:11 (CCC 756); 3:16-17 (CCC 797)
John 2:13-14 (CCC 583); 2:16-17 (CCC 584); 2:18-22 (CCC 586); 2:18 (CCC 575); 2:19-22 (CCC 994); 2:21 (CCC 586)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014